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90% of the world’s aquaculture faces substantial risk from human-induced environmental changes

The world’s biggest producers of aquatic foods and the aquaculture industry are under a significant threat. Environmental changes triggered by human activities have placed over 90% of the world’s aquaculture facilities under significant threat.

Countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa with the highest risk are reportedly least equipped to adapt to these changes.

Over 90% of worldwide ‘blue’ food production is facing substantial risk from environmental alterations. This covers both captured fisheries and aquaculture systems.

Key players like several Asian nations and the United States are predicted to face the most significant challenges to their production capabilities.

The groundbreaking paper presents the first global analysis of environmental stressors influencing the quantity and safety of blue foods.

How the aquaculture and blue foods study was conducted

A total of 17 stressors, such as algal blooms, sea level rise, fluctuating temperatures, and pesticide exposure, were assessed. Based on their exposure to these key stressors, countries were ranked for the first time.

“Environmental stressors do not care about national borders,” observed Ben Halpern, co-lead author of the study and professor at UC Santa Barbara.

According to him, stressors are moved by air, water, species, and humans, connecting lands to seas and ecosystems to ecosystems.

The study was published by Nature Sustainability under the title “Vulnerability of Blue Foods to Human-induced Environmental Change.”

It is one of seven scientific papers released by the Blue Food Assessment (BFA). These papers were published in a global effort to enhance the understanding of future aquatic food sustainability.

Climate change is not the only problem. The report underscores that highly vulnerable blue food production systems exist worldwide.

These include major producers such as Norway, China, and the U.S. The study emphasizes the need to better understand the complex stressors causing environmental change.

Understanding how environmental stressors impact aquaculture

Ling Cao is the co-lead author and professor at the State Key Laboratory of Marine Environmental Science at Xiamen University He says we’ve merely “scratched the surface in our understanding of how environmental stressors are connected and how they can negatively impact the production and safety of blue foods.”

Grasping the intricacies of these stressors and their cascading effects is crucial for devising effective adaptation and mitigation strategies.

In the U.S., the main threats to blue food production include species invasion, inland eutrophication or algal blooms, ocean warming, and sea level rise.

Freshwater and marine fisheries are at particularly large risk. Meanwhile, China’s freshwater aquaculture, being the largest blue food producer, is also under threat from inland eutrophication and severe weather events.

The authors point out that we should particularly focus on countries like Bangladesh, Eswatini, Guatemala, Honduras, and Uganda. They are highly exposed to environmental change but lack the capacity for adaptation.

What the researchers learned about aquaculture and blue food

According to the report, marine fisheries are more vulnerable to climate-related stressors, particularly temperature rise and acidification. In contrast, aquaculture is more likely to suffer from diseases and hypoxia or low oxygen levels.

Rebecca Short, co-lead author and researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, warns that although we’ve made progress on climate change, our strategies for blue food systems facing environmental change need urgent attention.

The study strongly suggests transboundary collaboration and adaptation strategies that consider the interconnectedness of ecosystems. Environmental change in one area can significantly impact other regions.

Diversifying blue food production in high-risk countries is recommended unless adequate mitigation and adaptation strategies are adopted. Additionally, it’s essential to engage stakeholders more actively in understanding, monitoring, and mitigating pressures on blue food production systems.

The researchers believe that indigenous knowledge will play a vital role in strategic planning and policies. Such knowledge is particularly critical for artisanal fisheries and heavily marine fisheries-dependent countries, like Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

The research also provides an extended dataset ranking countries based on the exposure of their blue food production systems to environmental stressors.

More about aquaculture and blue food production

Aquaculture, sometimes referred to as fish farming or shellfish farming, is the cultivation of aquatic organisms. These include fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic plants.

It involves the farming of species that live in the water (both saltwater and freshwater) under controlled conditions.

Aquaculture plays a critical role in meeting the world’s increasing demand for protein. It does so by providing a substantial share of the fish consumed globally.

Blue food refers to all types of aquatic foods. These include both those from aquaculture and wild capture fisheries. Blue foods can range from fish and shellfish to seaweed and other aquatic plants.

Blue food is an essential component of global food systems. It provides not only protein but also essential micronutrients and fatty acids that are beneficial to human health.

Here are some key points about aquaculture and blue food production:

Diversity of Species

Aquaculture involves a broad array of species, including finfish like salmon and tilapia, shellfish such as oysters and clams, and even seaweed. The choice of species depends on several factors, including market demand, local environmental conditions, and available technology.

Types of Systems

Aquaculture systems can be very diverse and are generally categorized into extensive or intensive systems. Extensive systems tend to rely on natural productivity, while intensive systems often require external inputs.

These include feed, aeration, and pest control. The systems can also be classified based on the type of water used. For instance, freshwater, brackish, or marine.

Sustainability Issues

While aquaculture has the potential to provide a sustainable source of protein, it faces several sustainability challenges. These include water pollution, habitat destruction, disease transmission, and the use of wild-caught fish as feed in some types of aquaculture. These factors can have significant environmental impacts.

Role in Food Security

Blue food plays a crucial role in global food security. It provides essential nutrients for billions of people and is an important source of livelihood for millions of people, particularly in developing countries.

Innovation and Technological Advances

New technologies and practices are continually being developed to improve the sustainability of aquaculture. These include more efficient feeding practices, closed-loop systems that recycle water, and the use of non-fish feed ingredients to reduce reliance on wild-caught fish.

Regulation and Management

Aquaculture is subject to a range of regulations and management practices intended to ensure its sustainability. These regulations can cover a variety of aspects, from water quality and disease management to animal welfare and labor rights.

Challenges from Climate Change

Like all food production systems, blue food production is vulnerable to climate change. Rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events can all pose significant challenges to both aquaculture and wild capture fisheries. Adapting to these changes will be a significant challenge in the coming decades.

Overall, aquaculture and blue food production are essential components of the global food system. They offer the potential to provide sustainable, nutritious food for a growing global population but also present significant environmental and management challenges that must be addressed.

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